I loathe concert reviews. I can’t stand reading them. When I feel I should read one, I skim it, sometimes jumping entire paragraphs for no good reason. For the most part, I can’t stand writing them either. Unless the live performance is part of a larger story or there is some kind of actual news peg--say if a band is debuting a raft of new material or playing for the Pope--a written review of a show reads like filler. I'd rather move on to the obituaries.
Someone could point out that, just three weeks ago, I commented on a live review of an Allen Stone concert written for City Arts by the very kind and thoughtful music critic Dan Digs. I wrote, “Well said, Digs. I went Saturday night and this happened ...” and then linked to this video of Stone leading the crowd in a dancing frenzy.
I didn’t lie, exactly. What I read of Dan’s review was solid, but I skipped a good three-quarters of it. I care about Allen Stone, but that’s why I went and why, really, I didn’t need to read the review. My compliment was just a way into the conversation so that I could post that amazing video and maybe a sideways thank you to Dan for writing the review so I didn’t have to. Thanks, Dan. And I'm sorry.
My distaste for live reviews might be due to the fact that, at almost 60 years old, the live rock ‘n’ roll experience often feels pretty played out and sclerotic, incapable of seeming newsworthy or surprising anyone in a post-GG Allin world. Or maybe I am just contemptuous of other people’s unproven opinions. I revere some of the live reviews of my rock critic forefathers, but is that just because all that literature has been sifted through, codified and stamped with “APPROVAL” from the cultural relevance police? Do I hate writing reviews because I secretly feel totally irrelevant?
Maybe the spread of the camera phone is to blame; no longer do we need to read words about performance. We can see it with our own eyes. That video of Allen Stone tells you everything you need to know about that show and does so in less than a minute.
I only bring this up because a few weeks ago a young songwriter in Seattle invited me to attend one of his performances. He promised it would be memorable. The way he was asking made it clear that he imagined a live review from me would be an ideal outcome.
I went, and I was moved, but I didn’t write a live review. Instead, I took the things that inspired me and parsed them into two different stories with very different purposes. One was an exploration of the space where the show was held with a few words on how the concert illuminated that space; the other an updated history of the artist that uses the show as a point of contemplation in a timeline that moves onward.
My method is to use the concert as a gateway. I hope it works to further the conversation. If not, at least I'm not asking you to read a set list.